Aurora HDR 2017 Review

Macphun has done it again!  Aurora HDR 2017 is a winner!

Sunset on the Ponte Vecchio (Florence, Italy).  Edited in Aurora HDR 2017.

If you have read my blog for any length of time, you will already know that I am a huge fan of Aurora HDR Pro from Macphun.  I have blogged about it, created videos about it, and wrote a review of it too.  It's just a great piece of software.

Well now Macphun has come back with a new and expanded version for 2017, and it is amazing!  I was lucky to have an early beta version of the product and have been using it for a while now.  The previous version will continue to be available, but if you are on the fence about upgrading - or haven't yet gotten the previous version - then read on and get the details on this amazing new product.  This 2017 version is now my go-to photo editor in place of Aurora HDR Pro.

If you want to compare versions, click here to view that on the Macphun site.

If you want to see my full HDR tutorial, you can find that here:

You might think that, because of all the amazingness Macphun packed into the previous version, that it could not get any better, but it has.  Here is a list of all the new features (or updates to existing features).  It's a very comprehensive product upgrade.

Aurora HDR 2017 Key Features:

  • NEW: Polarize Filter

  • NEW: Powerful Zone System for Luminosity masks

  • NEW: Batch Processing

  • NEW: Radial Masking

  • IMPROVED: Tone-mapping technology with reduced HDR noise, improved realism of initial result and faster performance

  • IMPROVED: User Interface with a cleaner more modern style

If you want to read my blog post previewing it, you can find that here.  In that blog post I share some screenshots outlining the new tools and more.  It's informative, so take a look.

If you want to see my preview video about Aurora HDR 2017, see below.

Hi there! Get ready to dive into the awesomeness of Aurora HDR 2017. It's coming SOON and I wanted to share a preview of it. Have a look and let me know if you have any questions!

Oh, and here is a product tour video I did as well, which may give you further insight into the look, feel and use of Aurora HDR 2017.

Follow along as I show you some cool stuff in Aurora 2017, including a bunch of Presets, Luminosity Masking, Editing Tools and even adding a custom texture. It's good fun. Get your pre-order with bonuses here:

Let me tell you a little bit about this new product.  It's a completely new version with a new interface and several additional tools that are completely new and unique to this version.  It is not a simple version update from last year's model.  This is a new product with new tools, and it is amazing.  You will love it.  Did I use the word new enough?  ;-)

Using the above list, here is some commentary about each of those items...along with some screenshots of course.

Editor's note: The screenshots below are done using RAW files straight out of camera.  There are some dust spots present and I am aware of those, but I did not remove them since this is a product review and I am not finishing the image here.  Just wanted to clarify.  :-)

  • Polarize Filter  

I don't use one of these on my camera, so it is very handy to have this in Aurora 2017.  It is literally just a slider.  When you move it to the right, it darkens the highlights.  Use it to take a too-bright sky and turn it into something more manageable.  Or make a subtle adjustment to the light of a beautiful sunset.  This gives you some additional flexibility that the previous version did not have.

Prior to moving the Polarizing Filter slider...

Here I have moved it all the way to the right.  See how the highlights have been dimmed?  It's a subtle change, but that is a good thing.

  • Luminosity Masking

I use LM all the time in Aurora, and will continue to do so in this new version.  However, it is now a zone-based system based on light levels, so it is much advanced over the previous version.  This gives you greater control over not just the LM, but over the final result of your image too.  At first, I was a little confused by this change in how you apply/create the LM, but now that I have used it quite a bit I find it very easy.  Just take your time and experiment and you will understand it in no time, I am sure.  It's as easy as clicking boxes - literally.  That's actually what you do.  :-)

You just click on the numbered boxes, which are arranged by light values (darkest to lightest).  For example, clicking on box 0 will add the LM to the darkest areas of the image, while clicking on box 10 will add the LM to the brightest areas of the image (and other numbers correspond to the light levels in sequence).  Make sense?

Generally, I have been just applying the LM to the lightest areas, so you can click on the corresponding numbered box, and you will see the little green hash marks on your image to illustrate where the LM resides.  In the screenshot below I have applied the LM to light levels (zones, technically) 3 through 7 (once you click the zone number, the box becomes yellow), and you can see the green marks on the image that represent the LM.  The rest of the image does not have the green marks on it, because the rest of the image does not have the LM on it.  Clear?

When you have it the way you want it, just click on the green check mark and it will create the LM and apply it to your image.  Here is the LM after applying it to zones 3 through 7, and then clicking on "Show Mask".  

From there, you can make all sorts of changes to the image, but as long as you are on the layer with the LM, they apply only to the LM.  If this sounds foreign, perhaps you can watch this video which I made about LM in the previous version.  Although the tool is different, the basic principles are the same and this may help you better understand how and why to use LM in your photos.  It's a very simple idea, but it's quite powerful (in a good way).

Today I demonstrate and explain what a luminosity mask is, and how to use one in Aurora HDR. It's a very simple yet powerful feature of Aurora and one that can help you create very natural-looking HDR photos. Enjoy!
  • Batch Processing

Truth be told, I don't use batch processing on my photos.  I'm not a batch-processing kind of guy - I prefer to process one image at a time, and not hurry along.  It's just my way I guess, but this is a very handy addition for those that do want this capability.  You can simply drag your groups of shots to Aurora HDR 2017 and then apply presets, select your output options, etc.  Very cool and helpful addition for those that want to get more done in less time.  Here are a few screenshots.

Open Aurora HDR 2017 and click on Batch processing...

Open Aurora HDR 2017 and click on Batch processing...

Click "Load Images" at the bottom and select your photos...then click Continue

After selecting your images and clicking Continue, you will be presented with this Batch Processing box, offering you countless options.  Choose whatever may be applicable and then click Process.

Note that you can select the Preset category and then a specific Preset.  You can change file output settings as well as file naming options.  It's very detailed, which is great.

Processing time can vary of course, depending on how many images you are working on in a batch.  But as I said above, it's a great addition for those that want to get things done a little quicker.

  • Radial Masking 

This is a tool that I have used a lot in Lightroom in the past, but now that it is built into Aurora HDR 2017, I will have the option to use it here (and I will choose that option, obviously!).  This lets you quickly make specific selections and then apply adjustments to that selection.  Very neat to have this handy!

To access this tool, simply click on the Brush Icon, and then the little circle icon with the 4 squares on it, which is sort of next to the Histogram.  When you click on that, it will apply the tool on top of you image, as in the screenshot below.

This is the default look/shape of this tool, but of course you can customize it.  In the screenshot below, I have stretched it out wider and made it shorter, to sort of focus in on the center of the image.  I also tilted it a little and moved it off-center slightly, just to show that you can do that, too.

In this final screenshot, I went into the Color menu and made some slight adjustments, which apply inside the radial mask.  I warmed it up a little so that some of the blue hue in the buildings has been reduced.  Of course, the options with the Radial Mask are limitless.  You can do just about anything you want, including reversing the mask so that your adjustments apply outside the circle/ellipse shape that you have there.  It's just up to your imagination.

  • Improved Tone-Mapping

This is HUGE.  While I never had issues with the tone-mapping section of Aurora HDR Pro, the sliders here are much more powerful, specific and easy to understand.  You can make some significant changes to your base HDR photo in this menu which allows you to get started with a more realistic and specific result.  Here is the Tone-Mapping panel, in which you can see that the tools here are much improved over the previous version.


This is my base merged HDR file, with no adjustments at all to the image, and specifically no adjustments in the tone-mapping panel, as you can clearly see.  It's very flat without much contrast and pretty much a lot of shadow.

Now, here is the image with several adjustments in the tone-mapping panel.  As you can see it is quite different.  Note that this was done for illustration, and I don't believe I would actually make these specific adjustments to this photo.  I just wanted to show that you have a lot of flexibility with the tone-mapping settings that you do not have in the previous version.  

I rarely went into the Tone-Mapping menu in the previous version, as I found the sliders somewhat oddly-named and thus I was never really clear how it was affecting my image (until I moved the sliders of course).  Now I can see that I will begin each photo by looking at this menu, making adjustments to get me to what feels like the proper starting point, and then moving on.

  • Improved User Interface

Again, I never had issues with the previous UI but I will admit that this one is much improved.  It allows more space for the image, which is wonderful since I want to see it as large as possible.  I also like that the tools are more modern-looking and updated.  If you are coming from the previous version, it will only take you a couple of minutes to get a handle on the changes.  They are mostly slight, but they add up to a cleaner, more intuitive interface.

I'm not adding screenshots here, because I think the UI is obvious in all the other ones already.  :-)

  • And all the other goodness you expect from Aurora HDR!

Just like previous versions, this new version has all the other awesome stuff that sits at the core of this amazing product.  While these may not be new or updated features, they are "killer" features nonetheless and deserve mention here.  Add up all the new/updated features above with all the other features below, and you can see why Aurora HDR 2017 can easily be your single photo editor, replacing a bunch of other tools.  You really have no need to go elsewhere to edit your photos.

  • You have Layers, which is a fundamental element of Aurora and one of the greatest features in my opinion.  You add a layer just like in the past, although now you have the option to make it an adjustment layer, a texture, the original image or one of the HDR brackets.  Use Layers to exert fine-grained control over very specific parts of your image, or to stack Presets or make countless other creative edits.
  • You have 3 additional blend modes, which you can combine with Layers to get unique and different implementations of whatever edits you are making on that layer.
  • You have an updated Top & Bottom Lighting section, giving you further control over this tool and how it is applied to your image.  It's a tool I use on nearly every image.  Now you can control Exposure, Contrast, Vibrance and Warmth in both the Top and Bottom sections, and of course adjust the Blend, Shift, and Rotation.  This was already a great tool that just got better!
  • You have some fabulous Macphun-created Presets (many of them are carry-overs from the previous version), as well as new Presets from well-known HDR photographers.  While I typically spend my time in the Realistic HDR category (with the occasional dip into Dramatic), it's nice to know that you have plenty of choices here in case you like to shop around, so to speak.  Of course, you can also create your own presets quite easily.
  • HDR Noise Reduction - a differentiating and defining tool in Aurora - is still there and just as useful as ever.  Create a new layer and apply noise reduction to specific parts of your image.  I frequently use this amazing feature to smooth out skies and water and give them a dreamy feel.  I've been in love with this tool since the first time I tried it, and it continues to make me smile.  :-)  So much easier than making a time-consuming round-trip to some other program.
  • The Color Filter now includes Hue, as well as Saturation and Luminance.  While not a killer feature, this update is useful and allows you to complete HSL adjustments fully here in Aurora instead of returning to Lightroom or elsewhere, for example.
  • Color Toning - also known as split-toning - is still there.  I use this all the time and think it is one of the most important tools to have at your disposal, and of course I am stoked that Aurora continues to include it.  I use this to accentuate sunset photos, or to give my photo a completely different feel and mood.  It's a very easy way to get a creative edit.
  • All the rest of the stuff is still there, too (sorry if I didn't name your favorite feature, but that just goes to show you that the list is long and distinguished, right?!).

I could write on and on about this product, but I think by now you get the point.  I love it, and it's gotten even better with this new version.  I can do more with my images in Aurora HDR 2017, which saves me time as well as further eliminates the need to use other products.  My photo-editing process got easier, better, simpler and quicker when I converted over to Aurora HDR Pro, and now with Aurora HDR 2017 it has improved even more.  I'm looking forward to processing all my images in Aurora HDR 2017 - it's a wonderfully capable and complete product for my workflow.

Click the banner below to be directed to the Macphun site to read more and order your copy, or just get a free trial download and try it for yourself!

Summary - two enthusiastic thumbs up from me!

All in all, Macphun has done a wonderful job with Aurora HDR 2017 and despite my love for the previous version, I happily admit that this one is even better.  I am excited about using it on all my new images going forward and it is a clear winner.

I give this product my highest recommendation, even if you are not interested in HDR photography.

I use it for single exposures, long exposures and even my iPhone shots (in addition to my HDR work).  It is an incredible, all-around photo editor that has just gotten a major upgrade and includes some fabulous capabilities.  You have more fine-tuned control over your image creation process and the results will be plain to see in your output.  You will love it.

Click the banner below to be taken to the Macphun website where you can read additional details on the product and place your order for Aurora HDR 2017 today.  You'll be glad you did!

Here are more sample images created with Aurora HDR 2017!

Sunset in Rome, Italy

Blue hour in Riomaggiore, Italy

Sunset in Florence, Italy